When I was a boy, I was fond of comics. Superheroes, of course, but I had a taste for edgier fare, too. But there was nothing comic about some of those tales.
One such comic had a story about a couple killed in a car crash, who left behind a young son and a considerable fortune. The boy’s aunt was made his guardian, and she plotted with her boyfriend to gain control over the money.
The aunt would send the boy down to the basement, where the boyfriend waited in a dark corner dressed in a bogeyman costume. Upon the boy’s arrival, the boyfriend would scare the living daylights out of the poor child.
After several such traumas, the aunt took the boy to a psychiatrist. When the boy persisted in his story about a bogeyman in the basement, the doctor had the boy committed.
When the greedy aunt went down to the basement to get rid of the evidence, she was surprised to find the boyfriend still dressed in the bogeyman costume – only it wasn’t the boyfriend; he’d already been dispatched – and it wasn’t a costume.
• • •
I’m reminded of that story whenever I hear alarmists on the Religious Right shouting about people out to destroy religion and naming as culprits liberals, feminists, gays, secularists, atheists, socialists and anyone else, depending on their need for a bogeyman.
I freely acknowledge that those of us who don’t share their perverse religious views – and most certainly those of us who don’t share their perverse political agenda – are indeed very vocal in criticizing the Religious Right. And no doubt, we’d like to see their political influence on the wane.
It appears that might be beginning to happen, now that religious extremists have exposed the true aim of their movement. That aim? It appears to be nothing less than Christian sharia.
Poetic justice that like the aunt in the comic book story, the Religious Right has brought this on itself. The bogeyman it conjured up may well have become real.
[Those who prefer a short – if not so sweet – post need read no further; those who prefer the dots connected, please proceed.]
• • •
One common charge by the Religious Right is that people want to turn America from a Christian nation into a secular nation. The first problem with that charge is this is not now, nor has it ever been, a Christian nation, and for the sake of this nation – and religion – let us hope that remains the case.
The First Amendment makes clear no religion has standing in this country. Standing is used here in the legal sense – it’s all too clear religion has standing in a political sense, as recent events too ludicrously – and in some cases, viciously – attest.
Those who would like to believe the Founders intended otherwise are advised to look to the Treaty of Tripoli, submitted by President John Adams, and unanimously approved by the Senate in 1797. That treaty contains this language:
“… the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion …”
It doesn’t get any clearer than that.
• • •
It’s easy to understand why the Religious Right continues to insist otherwise. Since the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion, there is no requirement to base our laws or policies on Christian moral precepts.
Certainly, such precepts can be considered when making our laws and policies; but by law, the moral precepts of any other religion – or for that matter, the moral precepts of the non-religious are to be (or ought to be) given equal consideration.
While we’re on that subject, morality does not require religion, regardless of religious views to the contrary. Morality only requires a respect for justice, fairness and goodness. For proof, one need only look to the Founders.
While the Founders did claim that our inalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are god-given, they made no claim for any particular religion. Indeed, many of the Founders – Franklin, Jefferson and Paine among the most obvious – were hardly what one could call religious men, and to call a Deist a Christian does justice to neither Deists nor Christians.
Furthermore, the Founders also used the word “Creator”. Employing the rationale of the Religious Right, that could be viewed as an endorsement of Native American religion.
In any case, that the Religious Right presumes ownership of the word “god” is another example of ignorance or hubris. That word has been applied to many deities throughout the ages, and capitalizing it is no more than a fig-leaf that fails to cover the naked truth.
• • •
Our individual rights may or may not be god-given; but in this country, it is the Constitution that guarantees them – or it did until we traded those rights away for the empty promise of “homeland security”. In any case, by accepting our rights as citizens, we are obligated to accept our responsibilities as citizens. Among those responsibilities is the duty not only to “provide for the common defense” but to “promote the general welfare”.
Admittedly, there are some gray areas when it comes to promoting the general welfare. But certainly that should reasonably include a provision for basic healthcare.
Unfortunately, the Religious Right refuses to acknowledge shades of gray. For them, it’s a dichotomous world, and everything in it is black and white – and white is always and absolutely right.
• • •
The principle of separation of Church and State is taught to every law student – with the possible or probable exception of graduates of law schools at Oral Roberts University or Liberty University. So when legislators – the vast majority of whom are lawyers – publicly point to their faith to justify their perfidy, it’s a safe bet they are practicing politics, not law. Or to put it more plainly, they are lying.
Legislators know – or ought to know – a law requiring contraception coverage or abortion coverage is well within their purview. It is also well-established that the law can require employers to provide such coverage. That our healthcare system is based on such an outmoded requirement is another question altogether; and in fact, that is one of the best arguments for a single-payer system.
Legislators also know – or ought to know – there is nothing in the Constitution that prevents the law from making a distinction between the religious practices of a religious institution and the business practices a religious institution chooses to involve itself in. Clearly, businesses such as hospitals and universities are only tangentially related to religion. Even more clearly, many religious institutions are involved in businesses even farther removed from religion.
If a law governing a business practice requires a religious institution to violate some moral precept it considers inviolate, that institution has another choice than refusing to obey the law; it is free to stop engaging in that business. Indeed, it can be argued that granting exemptions from a law gives religious institutions an unfair advantage over competing non-religious businesses.
As I said, the failure of legislators to make such distinctions is all too often not based on a legal or moral judgment, but on a political one. Their opposition to a bill often has more to do with opposition in a primary. That primaries are no longer representative of the electorate is an excellent argument for a change in the primary system.
• • •
One sorry example of where this abdication of legislative responsibility can lead is the recent proposal that any employer should be allowed to deny coverage for any benefit that employer deems offends his or her moral sensibilities. Such a foolish notion leads inevitably to an employer not being subject to any law with which he or she disagrees on moral grounds.
And why stop there? If that is the standard, then any citizen is exempt from any law or policy he or she finds morally objectionable. Assassination, rendition, torture, suspect wars – aren’t these worthy causes for moral objection ? Why aren’t those who profess to be followers of the Prophet of Peace objecting to these evils as vociferously as they do abortion and contraception?
In this instance, where to draw the line between Church and State is not nearly as difficult as some would have it. If in a democracy it is determined that women’s health and reproductive rights outweigh the moral precepts of one faith or another, followers of that faith are still free not to practice such things as contraception or abortion themselves.
But they are not free to refuse to pay for what is determined to be in the public good. That is true not only by law, but by the lights of the faith they claim. More on that in a moment.
The plain truth is that as citizens we are all required to compromise some of our most cherished values in the interest of the public good. Without compromise, there is no law and no government; there is only the jungle.
• • •
One would assume that all but the most ignorant religious leaders have been exposed to some if not all of these arguments. So the fact that those who presumably know better persist in encouraging beliefs they know to be false is, at the very least, practicing deception. Isn’t there a religious prohibition against bearing false witness?
One would also assume that in the 21st Century, most Americans would have been exposed to at least some of these ideas somewhere along the way. But the howling from the Religious Right suggests that is either a faulty assumption – or that the vast majority of the Religious Right is frighteningly ignorant about such matters. Either that or they are willfully blind to the truth.
• • •
All this begs the question, how did the Religious Right go so wrong? Let's leave aside the etheral plane of religion and stick with the much more earthy plane of politics.
It’s no coincidence the incursion into politics by the Religious Right began in earnest around the time of the Civil Rights movement. The federally mandated enforcement of individual rights for women and minorities, rights that had been denied in deference to “states rights” since this nation’s founding, led to an over-reaction by the most reactionary elements in the populace.
Perhaps it is also no coincidence that those who are the most reactionary are so often also those who claim to be the most devout.
One manifestation of this over-reaction was the “government is evil” mantra that has infested politics for more than three decades. That became an excuse to elect people to office who didn’t believe in government, thus rendering it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the nominally religious incorporated the soulless tenets of jungle-ethic capitalism into their religion, selling out the “feed the poor” commandments of Jesus for the perversion known as the Prosperity Gospel. It’s no coincidence the rise of the perverted Prosperity Gospel paralleled the rise of corporatization, globalization and financialization.
It’s fair to say that nothing has been more destructive of family values than the impoverishing of families through “greed is good” socio-economic practices and policies. And those practices and policies have been aided and abetted at every turn by the soiled politics of the Religious Right.
Those who held themselves out as moral exemplars were instead perpetrators of a gigantic fraud. While shouting about family values, they were electing people who destroyed family values. In short, the Religious Right has been negotiating in bad faith, in every sense of that word.
By failing to accept the most basic tenets of our system of government and attempting to substitute what can best be described as Christian sharia law, the Religious Right has corrupted government to such an extent, it has become impossible to govern.
And by failing to live up to the most basic tenets of the Christian faith, the Religious Right has done more harm to family values – and to religion – than all the secularists and atheists put together.
• • •
Surely no reasonable person assumes they can live in a pluralistic society without compromise, and compromise, rightly viewed, is not surrender, but sacrifice for the greater good. Surely, those who claim a faith based on the martyrdom of its founder should understand something about sacrifice for the greater good.
Surely, no reasonable person expects that holding to what they perceive as a higher moral standard comes without personal sacrifice. Those in doubt about that should ask Socrates – or Jesus.
Perhaps the overtly religious need reminding of the advice Jesus gave when faced with the dilemma of Church and State:
“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.”
It bears noting that Jesus did not criticize Caesar or the Romans; his criticism was reserved for those of his faith, especially those who saw wealth as a measure of worth. To them he offered only condemnation.
Nor did Jesus hold with those who made an ostentatious display of religiosity.To them, he offered this advice:
“You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's.”
Jesus words offer little comfort to those who try to put the blame on the government or on their brothers. And it’s doubtful he’d have kind words for those who try to put the blame on any other bogeyman.
©2012 Tom Cordle